Smoking & Child Custody

By Beverly Bird

All too often, custody laws boil down to where you live. What is considered OK in one state may be held against you in another. Smoking cigarettes is frowned on in at least 15 states, according to the Colorado Divorce Information website. If you are struggling with custody issues as part of your divorce, your tobacco habit might not cost you custody by itself, but it can be a factor in tipping the scales toward giving primary custody to your spouse, and it may even affect your visitation rights.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

The primary consideration with parental smoking is ETS – environmental tobacco smoke, commonly called secondhand smoke. It has been proven to cause asthma attacks and ear infections in children, and sudden infant death syndrome in babies. In a litigated divorce where a judge is being asked to rule on which parent a child should live with, it only makes sense that some courts will consider exposure to ETS.

The Best Interests Standard

Most states base custody decisions on the best interests standard, a list of factors a judge is obligated to weigh when determining which parent's household their child will live in most often – which parent will have primary physical custody. Even when best standards lists don't cite tobacco smoking specifically, they usually end with a catchall factor: anything else a judge feels is important in making a decision. Therefore, even if case law against parental smoking hasn't been established in your state, or if there is no statutory reference to it in your state's code, this doesn't prevent a judge from including it as a factor when making a custody decision. In fact, even if you don't smoke, it can be held against you if other members of your household do. ETS is only one factor of several, however. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, at least one state court has placed custody with a smoking parent over the objection of the other parent because she was considered the more appropriate parent.

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Critical Factors

Parental smoking – or even a situation where others are smoking in your household – typically becomes more of a custody factor if your child is already experiencing problems that might be worsened by exposure to ETS. For example, if you smoke and your child's asthma worsens after every visit with you, a court is likely to take this into consideration when deciding a final custody arrangement at your divorce trial. Placing your child with you full time might mean resigning her to a sickly childhood if you don't quit the habit. One of the best interests factors in many states is which parent best puts her child's needs before her own, so if you continue smoking in your child's presence knowing that it was harming him, this could detract from your suitability as the custodial parent.

Court-Ordered Provisions

Even if your smoking – or the fact that your spouse smokes – doesn't affect custody outright, family courts have it within their power to issue other orders to try to contain the effects of ETS on children. A judge might order that you never smoke in your home when your child is present, or even for hours before he is expected to be in your custody and care. He can order that you smoke only in one confined area of your home that your child doesn't have access to, or that you not smoke in your car if your child is a frequent passenger.

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Who Has the Advantage in a Custody Battle?
 

References

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Divorce Law & Visitation Statutes in Georgia

Although there may be no such thing as a perfect divorce, most states attempt to achieve that ideal, at least where children are concerned. Georgia is no exception. The state's legislative code makes frequent mention of the importance of preserving the parent-child relationship, and it does not allow parents to divorce unless a detailed parenting plan is in place first. When parents can't agree to a parenting plan, a judge will order one.

What Do They Look for in Custody Cases in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania revamped its child custody laws effective January 2011. Historically, like other states, Pennsylvania based custody decisions on the best interest of the child. However, what qualified as a child's best interest was ambiguous before 2011. The state's legislation now contains more specific criteria. Judges are required to explain how they applied these factors to each case, either within a custody order or verbally in court.

Can a Parent With Sole Custody Deny Visits?

If you have sole custody, you probably have a court order that awards you both legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody means that your child lives with you. Legal custody means you make all important decisions regarding your child without input from his other parent. Because all states believe a child should enjoy regular contact with both parents, the court order giving you sole custody probably specifies visitation times between your child and your ex. If so, you can’t suspend that visitation on your own. Only the court can deny visitation.

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